Slave versus enslaved person

Readability

Slave versus enslaved person

By John Ruberry

I did not con­tribute my usual Sun­day post here because Mrs. Marathon Pun­dit and I were on a short vaca­tion to Nashville.

Among our vis­its were stops at three man­sions, Carn­ton in Franklin, as well as Bel­mont, and the Her­mitage, which was Andrew Jackson’s home. There we were told by tour guides and sig­nage, and in the case of the Her­mitage, a portable lis­ten­ing device, about how none of the own­ers of the homes could have afforded their opu­lent lifestyle with­out own­ing slaves. Or should I say “enslaved persons?”

Many of the self-​appointed experts within acad­e­mia and the preser­va­tion­ist lot are crea­tures of the left and they pre­fer to enslaved per­son over slave, as the lat­ter dehu­man­izes those liv­ing under slavery.

First, let me get some­thing out of the way. Slav­ery is the dark stain on Amer­i­can his­tory and the prac­tice of it, which con­tin­ues today in var­i­ous forms in Africa, with Mau­ri­ta­nia being the worst vio­la­tor. There is slav­ery in Asia too. There are laws against slav­ery in every nation. Those laws need to be enforced.

But refer­ring to a cot­ton field­hand at the Her­mitage or a house ser­vant at Bel­mont as a slave doesn’t make them less human.

In its slav­ery entry Wikipedia weighs in:

There is a dis­pute among his­to­ri­ans about whether terms such as “unfree labourer” or “enslaved per­son”, rather than “slave”, should be used when describ­ing the vic­tims of slav­ery. Accord­ing to those propos­ing a change in ter­mi­nol­ogy, “slave” per­pet­u­ates the crime of slav­ery in lan­guage, by reduc­ing its vic­tims to a non­hu­man noun instead of, accord­ing to Andi Cumbo-​Floyd, “carry[ing] them for­ward as peo­ple, not the prop­erty that they were”. Other his­to­ri­ans pre­fer “slave” because the term is famil­iar and shorter, or because it accu­rately reflects the inhu­man­ity of slav­ery, with “per­son” imply­ing a degree of auton­omy that slav­ery does not allow for.

Count me in the lat­ter group. And in regards to writ­ing, my style guide­lines direct me to use one word over two when con­ven­ing mean­ing. Brevity is always best.

Left out of this slav­ery syn­tax revi­sion­ism is that while the Civil War was not ini­tially a con­flict over slav­ery, by the time the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion was issued it was just that. True, what fol­lowed the war and Recon­struc­tion was Jim Crow laws and wide­spread racism even in the north­ern states. Recon­struc­tion ended 140 years ago and America’s race rela­tions are far short of ideal.

And while we’re at it, let’s remem­ber that in con­trast to the por­trayal of the cap­ture of Kunta Kinte in the 1970s minis­eries Roots, West Africans who became New World slaves were for the most part cap­tured in wars between African tribes, ones who viewed each other with the same con­tempt that Serbs and Croats had for each other in the 1990s. Yes, it was Euro­peans and European-​Americans who gave these slave traders a lucra­tive pay­off for their sins.

When you open Pandora’s Box, a lot of demons are set loose.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

By John Ruberry

I did not contribute my usual Sunday post here because Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I were on a short vacation to Nashville.

Among our visits were stops at three mansions, Carnton in Franklin, as well as Belmont, and the Hermitage, which was Andrew Jackson’s home. There we were told by tour guides and signage, and in the case of the Hermitage, a portable listening device, about how none of the owners of the homes could have afforded their opulent lifestyle without owning slaves. Or should I say “enslaved persons?”

Many of the self-appointed experts within academia and the preservationist lot are creatures of the left and they prefer to enslaved person over slave, as the latter dehumanizes those living under slavery.

First, let me get something out of the way. Slavery is the dark stain on American history and the practice of it, which continues today in various forms in Africa, with Mauritania being the worst violator. There is slavery in Asia too. There are laws against slavery in every nation. Those laws need to be enforced.

But referring to a cotton fieldhand at the Hermitage or a house servant at Belmont as a slave doesn’t make them less human.

In its slavery entry Wikipedia weighs in:

There is a dispute among historians about whether terms such as “unfree labourer” or “enslaved person”, rather than “slave”, should be used when describing the victims of slavery. According to those proposing a change in terminology, “slave” perpetuates the crime of slavery in language, by reducing its victims to a nonhuman noun instead of, according to Andi Cumbo-Floyd, “carry[ing] them forward as people, not the property that they were”. Other historians prefer “slave” because the term is familiar and shorter, or because it accurately reflects the inhumanity of slavery, with “person” implying a degree of autonomy that slavery does not allow for.

Count me in the latter group. And in regards to writing, my style guidelines direct me to use one word over two when convening meaning. Brevity is always best.

Left out of this slavery syntax revisionism is that while the Civil War was not initially a conflict over slavery, by the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued it was just that. True, what followed the war and Reconstruction was Jim Crow laws and widespread racism even in the northern states. Reconstruction ended 140 years ago and America’s race relations are far short of ideal.

And while we’re at it, let’s remember that in contrast to the portrayal of the capture of Kunta Kinte in the 1970s miniseries Roots, West Africans who became New World slaves were for the most part captured in wars between African tribes, ones who viewed each other with the same contempt that Serbs and Croats had for each other in the 1990s. Yes, it was Europeans and European-Americans who gave these slave traders a lucrative payoff for their sins.

When you open Pandora’s Box, a lot of demons are set loose.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.